BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It’s the end of the beginning of IndyCar 2015 this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, the second road course race of the season for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Here’s what to look for in today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra):
After Juan Pablo Montoya, James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon, there’s pretty good chance of a fourth different driver becoming the fourth different winner in as many races this season. And fittingly, four of the top five on the grid are vying to be that single fourth.
Polesitter Helio Castroneves and Will Power make up the front row and look for their second and third Barber wins, respectively. Meanwhile teammate Simon Pagenaud seeks his first win as a member of Team Penske from P3 on the grid, and rising star Josef Newgarden looks for his first overall from P5.
Sixth through ninth (Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal and Luca Filippi) would also be the fourth different winner in as many races here. However, only once has the winner started outside the top three, Power from ninth in 2012 (third, first, ninth, first and third have been the starting positions of winners the previous five Barber races).
BATTLE OF THE MARCHING THREE-LETTER ACRONYMS
JPM and RHR will be the two to watch after rough qualifying outings on Saturday.
Montoya starts from P15, and Ryan Hunter-Reay from P18 as they look to carve through the field, or at least salvage something of their days. It will likely take a strategy play from either or both of them to make it into win contention.
CHANGING TRACK CONDITIONS
Both practice sessions were cool and overcast today, before the beat-the-clock style qualifying later Saturday afternoon. It was a hectic day from start to finish.
However with a warmer, sunnier day expected for Sunday, it remains to be seen whose car will work better in the different conditions. Rare are warmups that important, but today’s certainly fit the bill. Dixon led the way ahead of Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Kanaan.
SLEEPERS, ROOKIES AND COMEBACKS?
Any non-Penske or Ganassi podium-finishing drivers – given five of the top six on the grid are from those two teams – would be surprising.
Newgarden would be a popular podium finisher if he can pull it off, while a Rahal or Filippi podium could be possible if the strategy works out.
Elsewhere watch Ganassi’s two American drivers, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam, who roll off from 11th and 12th and could factor into things. Kimball is something of a Barber specialist and Karam, who injured his wrist in a testing accident here last month, is making progress after a ragged two races to open his season.
The other driver to watch is Marco Andretti, who is another solid Barber driver but had another challenging qualifying effort. He’ll start 13th.
Honda drivers desperately need a good race in their sponsored race, but it might be tough sledding. Chevrolet drivers have 10 of the top 12 grid positions and in the dry, Honda’s drivers have seemed to have little to match.